Sassy, quirky and very British, Lorna Dounaeva writes crime mysteries with a lot of twists. Her debut novel, FRY, was rated as IndieReader.com's Best Indie Books of 2013 and received over 200 glowing reviews on Amazon. She is back with a thrilling mystery, "May Queen Killers," of which the idea has been buzzing around in her head while writing Fry. In this interview, Dounaeva talks about My Little Ponies, her dance-off with a flamenco troupe and who her favorite authors are.
You recently published May Queen Killers. What is the book about?
May Queen Killers is about a beauty queen, Sapphire who disappears, and a troubled mystery writer, Jock who tries to find her. It starts out a bit like a cosy mystery, but as Jock delves into Sapphire's past, it builds into what could be considered a psychological thriller.
Your bio claims that you once challenged a flamenco troupe to a dance-off. How did that go about? And who won?
I used to be part of a group of women who collected My Little Ponies and organised conventions. While attending the engagement party of one of these women, my friends and I were embarrassed about admitting how we knew the bride to be. So, knowing that she also danced, we told everyone we were part of her Flamenco troupe. I thought we'd got away with it, when one particular lady came up to us and asked how we knew the host. We told her, as we had told everyone else that we were Flamenco dancers and she said:
"No, we're the Flamenco dancers," indicating herself and her friends. She did not look pleased.
A challenge was thrown down, at least that's how I remember it. (I had had a few Lambrinis at that point.) Guitars were produced from nowhere and everyone cleared the dance floor. The real flamenco troupe danced first, and they were sensational. Then it was our turn. What my friends and I lacked in talent, we made up for in passion. We did lots of stomping about and glaring, swaying about to the music. Afterwards, the audience were asked to vote for their favourite rendition, and to our delight, we won. The real flamenco troupe were fuming and we decided to make a quick exit. It was only afterwards that my friends informed me that I was the one who'd demanded a dance-off in the first place.
What do you enjoy most about writing mysteries?
I love stories that are difficult to figure out. Lots of twists and turns. I'm always disappointed if I work out the mystery when I'm reading a book or watching a film.
Your previous book, Fry, was named as one of the best Indie books of 2013 - did you find the expectations that came with a second novel hard to deal with?
I didn't really worry about expectations much. I just wrote the novel I wanted to write.
How do you think have you evolved creatively after publishing your first book?
I have had a lot of feedback, which helps. After publishing FRY, I have a better idea of what readers like about my books and what I can work on. I am definitely getting quicker at writing!
If you could pick any book for a movie adaptation, which one would you like to see on the big screen?
FRY, because I'd like to see the fires on screen!
Have your politics studies had any influence on your work? Did it make you look at the world differently?
I have a subtle social agenda. I consider myself a feminist, and I care about mental health and social issues, so I hope that comes through in my books but I wouldn't want to ram my views down any one's throat.
What are your three all-time favorite books —and why?
Gone with the Wind is my favourite book. I love the strong characters, the twists and turns in the plot and dare I say it the length. I wonder if that book would be serialised if it was written today?
I also love Emma by Jane Austen - great social commentary. Feels almost like it could have been written today.
For the third book, I'd choose anything by Marian Keyes. I love how down to earth she is, and she has this amazing quality of making you cry one minute and laugh the next.
How did the idea for May Queen Killers originate?
I'm not entirely sure. It just started buzzing around in my head while I was trying to finish FRY. It was quite annoying really!
What appealed to you about using a small village as the setting for the book?
I grew up in a small village, and I live in one now. There is something about them. Everybody knows everybody. It can be friendly and suffocating at the same time. I remember going to buy a loaf of bread on the way home from school one day and being told that I didn't need it, because my brother had already bought one!
You have two kids. How do you find the peace and quiet to be able to write?
My youngest is at school now, so I get some time during the day. But before that, I was mainly writing at the edges of the day.
What can we expect from you next? Will we see more of Jock in the future?
I have already written a 10k short story, The Muse involving Jock and his side-kick Dylan. (free from my website, LornaDounaeva.com)